Posts Tagged ‘Verity Lambert’

Verity Lambert (1980’s)

November 10, 2009

Here’s Verity Lambert telling DWM about the early days of ‘Doctor Who’. She puts right a few misconceptions, and admits that she wasn’t too fond of ‘An Unearthly Child’…

“Doctor Who was never intended to last just six weeks. Right from the beginning, we were told it would be a year-round production. Certainly by the time the first episode was shown, we had most of our scripts together for the full season. The only thing we didn’t know then was that there would be another season after that. This myth about the show only being planned to last six weeks is one that has grown over the years, probably as a result of inventive reporting.

“The format for ‘Doctor Who’ was pretty well defined by the time I arrived. Donald Wilson had already given the job of writing the first story to Anthony Coburn, together with the firm guidelines as to how the characters would be broken down. The Doctor was to be irascible and unpredictable. What nobody wanted was a conventional dotty old professor, so it was stressed that the Doctor should be something of an anti-hero to begin with.

“Susan was his original travelling companion, to mix knowledge with naivety, though it was Anthony Coburn who cast her as the Doctor’s grand-daughter. I think Anthony Coburn felt there was something not quite proper about an old man travelling around the galaxy with a young girl for a companion. Ian was there to be the hero figure and to be physically adept, with Barbara on hand to solve the human orientated problem posed by the Doctor and Susan being something special.

“David Whitaker and Mervyn Pinfield were absolutely super in the work they put into ‘Doctor Who’. Mervyn was appointed to be our technical adviser because neither David nor myself were scientists in any degree. Our brief was to ‘use television’ – that is, make use of all its resources and new developments in order to achieve a scientific look. Mervyn Pinfield came up with opening graphics by suggesting the use of a camera pointing down its own monitor.

“We were all very nervous making our first few shows, simply because we were doing things that had rarely been done before, and certainly not by the BBC. David and I relied heavily on Mervyn to read through story ideas and scripts to see if they could be done easily and to our budget, or to suggest ways of modifying them so that they could be done with photographic tricks.

“I didn’t much care for the caveman story as a whole, but the ending of episode one is an absolutely magical sequences. There was no dialogue during those last few minutes, it was all done visually and, I think, with great invention, taking the four central characters on a ride through time to that desert and then ending with the shadow falling over the landscape. It summed up just how new ‘Doctor Who’ was as a concept.

“David chose Terry Nation on the strength of some science fiction work he’d already done for ITV, ‘Journey Into the Unknown’. At first we were a bit wary about accepting his storyline about the Daleks, because of the bug-eyed monster concept. Sydney Newman had outlined a series that was part history and part educational towards science; the aim being to expose children to science and history and hopefully interest them in it. I didn’t feel the Daleks altered Sydney Newman’s format, mainly as they were in functioning metal cases.

“The crisis came when Donald Wilson saw the scripts for the first Dalek serial. Having spent so much time defending ‘Doctor Who’, he saw the Daleks as just bug-eyed monsters, which went against what he felt should be the theme of the science-fiction stories. There was a strong disagreement between us, in fact it went as far as Donald Wilson telling us not to do the show. What saved it in the end was purely that fact that we had nothing to replace it in the time alloted. It was the Daleks or nothing. What was very nice, though, was Donald Wilson coming up to me after the Daleks had taken off and saying ‘You obviously understand this programme better than I do. I’ll leave it to you’.

“Dennis Spooner was known mostly for comedy, and as our scripts started coming in I decided I wanted to experiment with putting comedy into ‘Doctor Who’. ‘The Romans’ perhaps didn’t work very well, although I liked it enormously and I know Bill Hartnell felt much more comfortable doing comedy than all the scientific stuff”.

Verity Lambert (1983)

August 17, 2009

A short interview with Verity Lambert, shown on ‘Nationwide’ as part of the celebrations for hte 20th anniversary back in 1983.

Q: Verity Lambert was the first producer of ‘Doctor Who’ at 27. Did you ever dream that you were in on the creation of an institution?

A: No. It was commissioned to run for a year.

Q: What did you initially see the series being?

A: Well it was a series that was designed to appeal to eight to fourteen year-olds, which of course it didn’t, it appealed to everyone, which is wonderful. And the only way I could judge that, because I didn’t have any children, was to say well if it pleases me, hopefully it will please them.

Q: Looking back, what do you think is the magic ingredient that gives it universal appeal? I mean, thirty-eight countries watch it…

A: Well I think it’s the thing of being fantastical, really, never quite conforming to what you expect, and changing every four to six weeks a serial, so you change completely a locale.

Q: There’s a difference, though, between something that the audience can believe, and something that’s a bit of a send-up. The TARDIS, for instance, a spaceship that’s in the shape of a phonebox…

A: Well there’s a story behind that, because in fact it was supposed to change shape and blend in with its surrounding wherever, and of course it was found in England. But we couldn’t afford to keep changing it, so we stuck the mechanism and it remained a phonebox.

Q: In the end, they’re moral tales, aren’t they?

A: Yes, good and evil are very well defined and I think people like that.

Delia Derbyshire (1997)

August 15, 2009

Delia Derbyshire arranged the first version of the ‘Doctor Who’ theme tune, back in 1963. The music itself had been written by Ron Grainer on a beach in Portugal, but it was Delia’s job to put it all together. In this BBC Radio Scotland interview from 1997, she talks about recording the music for the show, and also about some of her later work.

I also recommend reading the full interview with Delia, in which she talks in more details about some of her non-‘Doctor Who’ work.

Q: What you achieved in the Radiophonic Workshop is something we should perhaps define for people who don’t understand the processes that went into making that kind of music.

A: It was only by gradually infiltrating the system that I was able to do music. I think you’d call that music, wouldn’t you? I did try to use electronic sounds wherever possible, and I think some of the sounds were bits cut out of other things after editing.

Q: You said that these pieces were put together using very simple devices, very simple compared to what’s available today, but at the time they were state of the art. One of the most famous pieces you did was the ‘Doctor Who’ theme tune, tell me how you did that. I believe it was with some dozen or so oscillators?

A: Indeed, yes, we did have a bank of a dozen oscillators, but one couldn’t use them all at once. The first producer of ‘Doctor Who’, Verity Lambert, she had in her mind ‘Les Structures Sonore’, I don’t know whether you’re old enough to remember this group from Paris. Their music sounded extremely electronic, but in fact they were all acoustic instruments.

Q: Did they use glass rods in their music-making?

A: Yes, exactly, and so Verity Lambert couldn’t possibly afford ‘Les Structures Sonore’ from Paris, and because the Radiophonic Workshop was a below-the-line cost, she came to the Radiophonic Workshop, and the boss recommended Ron Grainer because he’d done something called ‘Giants of Steam’ there earlier. Ron saw the provisional titles, as usual something like a black and white negative, and he took the timings and went away to his private beach in Portugal and wrote the score. He came back with the score, with abstract things on, like wind clouds and sweeps and swoops, wind bubble, all beautiful descriptions, but with a very carefully worked out rhythm. It was very subtle, the way he wrote the rhythm, and so I got to work and put it all together. It was a magic experience, because I couldn’t see from the music how it was going to sound, it was Ron’s brilliant aural imagination.

Q: The original version of the theme is the one that has your own stamp of approval, I believe?

A: I’d say that, yes. I think every time a new producer came or a new director came, they wanted to tart up the title music, and they wanted to put an extra two bars here, put some extra feedback on the high frequencies, they kept on tarting it up out of existence. I was really very shocked with what I had to do.

Q: Where did the inspiration for ‘Blue Veils and Golden Sands’ come from?

A: This was a documentary programme about the Tourec tribe. The Tourec tribe are nomads in the Sahara desert, and I think they live by bartering, taking salt across the desert. In the piece, I tried to convey the distance of the horizon and the heat haze and then there’s this very high, slow, reedy sound. That indicates the strands of camels seen at a distance, wandering across the desert. That in fact was made with square waves on the bay of oscillators we just talked about. Square waves put through every filter I could possibly find, to take out all the bass frequencies, and so one just hears the very high frequencies. It has to be something out of this world.

Q: Your job tended to run counter to your formal training. You studied music, and also mathematics, and it was a time in the British musical establishment when you weren’t supposed to do that kind of thing, and there you were swimming completely against the tide.

A: You should see my last birthday card, it’s a lovely one from America with a whole shoal of fishes swimming with their mouths turned down, fishes in silhouette, and one fish swimming the other way.

Q: That’s you, is it?

A: Yes, well with a smile on its face, and printed on the card was ‘To an independent thinker’. (laughs) I think that sums me up, I did rebel against… I did all sorts of things I was told I couldn’t do, I think I’ve always been a very independent thinker. I must say that I go back to first principle when it comes to music, I go back to the Greeks, well, the simple harmonic series, I think that’s a very healthy thing to do for anyone.

Q: I’d like to turn our attention to the time you took the Radiophonic Workshop out of the BBC and worked on an album by the group ‘White Noise’.

A: I think my forte is, well apart from having an analytical mind to do electronic sound, at the opposite end I’m very good at writing extended melody, for which there was not really an opening at the BBC. So I met this guy, I was giving a lecture at Morley College in London, and he came up to me afterwards. He played the double bass, the same as I did, and he was already doing tracks for the Ballet Rambert, and we got together and started this album.

Q: ‘Firebirds’ from ‘White Noise’, with a touch of the original Russian folk music that Stravinsky used for his Firebird suite coming in at the end, from the album that came out in the late 1960’s on the Island label but has, I believe, been reissued in Sweden of late.

A: I don’t know when it was reissued, but yes, it must get played because I do get some royalties from it.

Q: Some of the music you made tended to be a little too challenging for producers at the time, and were rejected for their original purpose. That must have been fairly difficult to take?

A: (laughs) Yes. Indeed. And, let me see, I think… let us go back to the late 50’s, ealry 60’s… Dave Brubeck had done ‘Take 5’, and in about ’61 he’d done ‘It’s a Raggy Waltz’ in 7-time, so I thought fine, I’m into the numbers game, I’ll do 11-time and 13-time, continuing the series of prime numbers. But unfortunately I was told at the time that it was too sophisticated for the BBC2 audience. And about that time the choreographer Irving Davis happened to be walking down the corridor and his feet started tapping and he said “I want that”, and I said “No, you can’t, I’ve done it for the BBC” and so he implored me to do something in the same style, in 11-time and 13-time, for his dance group, which I did, in fact it was for theĀ  Frankie Howerd and Cilla Black show, but it had to be scrapped for that but there was rather delicate music as the opener to the second act. That was their problem.

Q: Not a particularly clever bit of sequencing, I’d imagine.

A: No, and I didn’t have a television in those days but friends told me, by one means or another, it ended up being used as the backing for a deodorant commercial on television, which of course we were forbidden from doing. It was rejected by BBC2, and there it was on a commercial… I tell you what, I did films, I did the first electronic fashion show, I did feature films and art films, I don’t know what is up in my loft, it’s probably been eaten by the wasps and the mice.

Q: I did actually have a letter from you saying that you had a demo of one of your songs recorded by Anthony Newley, now that’s something I’d love to hear.

A: Yeah, I’d quite like to find it. He came to my little one-room flat above a flower shop in Maida Vale to hear the backing track he’d aske me to do. He said “Don’t put a tune on it, I’ll write my own tune, but I’d like a backing track, an electronic backing track”. He said “You’ll probably want to put on a tune, your own tune, just to make sense of it, but I’m not going to use it.” Anyway, he took it away and not only did he use it, he double-tracked it, he was thrilled to bits with it. He said, and I felt quite insulted at the time, “I’ll soon get you out of this place.” In fact, the people who’d driven him there were Joan and Jackie Collins.

Verity Lambert & Dennis Spooner (1964)

August 9, 2009

This is a fairly light 1964 piece promoting the return of the Daleks in ‘The Dalek Invasion of Earth’, episode one of which had just been broadcast. Nevertheless, there are relatively few interviews with Verity Lambert and Dennis Spooner, so even a small piece holds some interest. Scans coming soon(ish).

From the Daily Mail:

Shorty after 5.40 this evening a week of almost unbearable tension will come to an end.

At that time, the BBC adventure serial ‘Doctor Who’ comes on the air. And as some ten million viewers can tell you, the dreaded Daleks are back and about to reveal their future plans.

At the end of last week’s episode, a single specimen of this radioactive race of what appear to be malevolent pepper-pots rose from the Thames and waved its antenna at the terror-stricken audience. Then the credit titles rolled.

At once a howl of anguish went up all over Britain and the BBC switchboard was jammed with 400 calls. Angry viewers protested that the Dalek’s appearance was far too brief: that children who had waited months for another sign of the monsters were weeping and refusing to go to bed.

And not only children, for ‘Doctor Who’s massive audience includes millions of adults.

The operation of the Daleks – they were killed off earlier this year but brought back by public demand – is conducted by a remarkably attractive young woman called Verity Lambert who, at 28, is not only the youngest but the only female drama producer in BBC TV.

She arrived at the Corporation via Roedean, the Sorbonne University and a spell in New York as personal assistant to David Susskind, the producer and commentator who is one of the top figures in American TV.

‘Doctor Who’ was her first producing assignment a year ago, and with this background she has insisted on a high standard of professionalism for the serial.

“I have strong views on the level of intelligence we should be aiming at,” she told me briskly. “‘Doctor Who’ goes out at a time when there is a large child audience but it is intended more as a story for the whole family.

“And anyway children today are very sophisticated and I don’t allow scripts which seem to talk down to them.”

Nine well-established script-writers have contributed to ‘Doctor Who’ in the past twelve months and they are closely briefed on the requirements of the Doctor and his invaluable machine.

Story editor Dennis Spooner, who has written many episodes himself, told me “writers have to be divided into those who can cope with trips back into the past and those who can write adventures set in the future. Very few can do both.

“The futuristic stories ought to be easier because the scope is endless but we have to set some limits to remain mildly plausible and we have found that many writers are completely lost with science fiction.”

While the programme is running – and it has had only one six-week spell off the air – the cast start rehearsing each week’s episode every Monday morning in an outside rehearsal room and remain hard at it until the following Friday.

On Friday mornings they move into the studios at the Television Centre or the BBC’s riverside studios at Hammersmith and from 10.30am rehearse with cameras and the full, impressive range of props that appear in ‘Doctor Who’.

From 8.30 in the evening the programme is recorded and the cast are permitted the weekend off before starting all over again on the following Monday morning.

Pre-recording has allowed the regulars in the series a five-week holiday which is just ending.

When they return on Monday – with the exception of Carole Ann Ford, whose place in the team is being taken by a newcomer called Maureen O’Brien – they will start working non-stop for 26 weeks on programmes that will be shown in the New Year.

These ugly anti-social fugitives from an overgrown cruet may well have met their match in Miss Lambert.

Tall, dark and shapely, she became positively forbidding when I suggested that the Daleks might one day take over ‘Doctor Who’.

“I feel in no way obligated to bring them back for a third time even if this present story is a tremendous success,” she said with a noticeable chill.

Rex Tucker – Director (1995 interview)

July 29, 2009

This may be the final interview conducted with the man who was originally slated to direct the very first ‘Doctor Who’ story, ‘An Unearthly Child’; although that never came to pass, he was instrumental in the creative decisions surrounding the show’s inception, and later directed ‘The Gunfighters’ (damn, I hope series 5 of the new series has a western episode).

My copy of the interview is a page torn out of a fanzine, so I’ll have to dig around for the exact source, but it’s page 34 of something and as with everything else here, expect a rush of scans asap. It’s very short, which is a pity because Rex played such an important part in the creation of the series.

Q: What do you remember about ‘Doctor Who’?

A: That was a difficult one because there was conflict about the script. The writer was against the producers and I wasn’t sure who was going to win out until we got to filming, which was on, I think, a studio set at Lime Grove that was very old-fashioned, to the point of being almost impossible to use. I remember feeling very much that we were out in the sticks.

Q: Verity Lambert was a very young producer, and female, which must have been unusual thirty years ago?

A: She was very good, but yes, she was a fish out of water. She proved herself very quickly and I have nothing but the greatest respect for her.

Q: What about William Hartnell? What do you remember about him?

A: Bill was very professional. He seemed to get on very well with the other cast, who were all very young. They were great friends by the time we finished shooting the first serial.

Q: Did you watch ‘Doctor Who’ after you worked on it, and do you think it could ever be a big hit again?

A: I watched it a little. Tom Baker was very good, I’d have liked to have worked with him. I thought all the actors were very good, although the scripts were terrible. I’d have torn them up and refused to make them. I’m sure it could be a success again, it’s a strong idea, it just needs good writers and good directors.